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Friday, August 31, 2007

Review: How to be Funny

In my recent review of Draw Cartoons Today from WCCL, I mentioned the company's brand new course How to be Funny. Well, I've now managed to get my hands on a review copy!

How to be Funny is intended for anyone who would like to develop their sense of humour. The author, Max Matterson, has worked in the world of comedy for the past 20 years. He has been a headlining stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, and taught comedy to writers across the globe. He has also had eleven comedy productions commissioned by the BBC.

How to be Funny is sold as an instant download. The file is a quite substantial 101MB, so you really do need a broadband/DSL connection to download it in this form. If you only have dial-up access, you might want to ask WCCL's helpdesk service if the course is also available on CD-ROM. I couldn't see anything about this on the sales page, but I might have missed it.

One other point to bear in mind is that How to be Funny is password-protected. You will find the password in the email you receive from WCCL when you purchase the course, so don't delete this.

How to be Funny arrives as a compressed Zip file. When you unzip this - perhaps using an application such as WinZip - you will find that it contains three items: a comedy screensaver, including one-liners from the course set against attractive backgrounds (I love this, by the way!); a "comedy confidence" hypnosis session, designed to build your confidence before performing to an audience; and the main How to be Funny manual in PDF format.

The manual is obviously the centrepiece of the course, so let's look at this in detail. It comprises 95 single-spaced pages of advice from Max Matterson in an attractive, readable font. You are free to print out any or all of the pages if you wish, and I was pleased to see a detailed table of contents at the front (though not hyperlinked, unfortunately).

Following a short introduction, the manual is divided into three main sections. Part One, How to be Funny, explains the basic rules of comedy, and shows how you can use them to make up your own jokes. This section also covers comedic timing and delivery, how to memorize jokes, and so on. It includes plenty of practical exercises to help you come up with your own comedy ideas.

Part Two, Enhance Your Humor, goes into much more detail about jokes and humour generally. It discusses the different types of humour, and how to use humour in a range of situations: the workplace, business presentations, with friends, and so on. Dealing with put-downs and heckles is discussed, as is being sensitive to the needs and expectations of different types of audience.

Finally, Part Three is a collection of resources from the Web. Over 50 sites are listed here, under a range of headings including Jokes, How to Use Humor in the Workplace, How to Use Humor in Presentations, and so on. Following on from Part Three, you also get some additional bonus items, including a large collection of favourite jokes and one-liners.

Overall, I was impressed with the manual, which is well written and comprehensive. It provides some real insights into the art of writing and performing comedy, and the many exercises it includes are a great way to flex your comedic muscles.

In my view, the manual will be of most use to people who actually want to perform comedy - from aspiring stand-ups to those who want to use comedy more effectively in business presentations and such like. It would also be great for anyone who wants to improve their comedic skills in social situations.

There is no doubt, also, that the techniques taught in the manual would be highly relevant to comedy writers. That applies especially to people who want to write gags for comedians, or short comedy items for greeting cards, TV sketch shows, cartoons, and so on. The manual isn't aimed primarily at writers, however, and you will need to look elsewhere for advice on the correct format for writing (say) TV comedy, where to submit your work, and so on. Dare I say it, my course Quick Cash Writing includes plenty of advice on this type of thing.

Finally, I should mention that How to be Funny is currently available at a special offer price of just $29.95 (around 14.95 UK pounds or 21.95 euro). For that money, and when you take into account the screensaver and self-hypnosis script also included, I reckon it represents amazing value for any aspiring comedian or comedy writer.

* In light of a number of queries I have received, please note that the course reviewed above has no connection with the (more expensive) How to Be Funny Course by Stanley Lyndon. I have no knowledge of Lyndon's course, so cannot comment on its merits one way or the other.

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